Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bit of a disappointing weekend for the Sox in Houston. They lost two games by one run - 11-10 last night and 3-2 this afternoon. Last night was particularly frustrating, as Jon Lester gave up a 4-0 lead and the bullpen lost a 9-6 lead.

But maybe the Sox were looking past the Astros a bit to the series this week against the first place Tampa Bay Rays. Wrap your head around that one on June 29, will you? Yeah, it's only a half game, but still. Since the team's creation in 1998, the Rays have pretty much been playing out the string by Independence Day. The phrases "big series" and "Tampa Bay Rays" have never gone together before. I guess there's a first time for everything.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

If you like the great comedians of radio and the early years of TV, this encounter between Jack Benny and Groucho Marx is must viewing. Enjoy!

Friday, June 27, 2008

I haven't done a truly random baseball thoughts post in a while, so here goes...

  • Just how dumb is Shawn Chacon? He pushes down Ed Wade, the Astros GM (twice!), and gets released by the team. He was apparently unhappy about a demotion to the bullpen. Want my advice, Shawn? Get your ERA down under 5 before complaining. His MLB career may be over - his next baseball gig might be with the St. Paul Saints or the Nashua Hawks.
  • Speaking of the Astros, they don't really seem like the Astros without Biggio and Bagwell.
  • John Smoltz had season ending arm surgery. Greg Maddux is 3-6 with a bad Padres team (although with a pretty good 3.52 ERA). Tom Glavine is 2-3, 4.85 and on the DL with a sore elbow. Could this be the year all three hang it up and go into the Hall of Fame together? If that happened, I'd be getting myself out to Cooperstown for that induction ceremony.
  • The Yankees and the Mets made up a rainout at Yankee Stadium this afternoon, then headed over to Queens for the back end of a doubleheader at Shea. Wouldn't that be great to do- two games in two ballparks in one day?
  • Everybody figured that Brian Cashman was truly desperate when he signed Sydney Ponson to a contract. It's starting out well for him, though, as Ponson has shut out the Mets through six at this writing. I personally think that Cashman just wanted his own fat guy to offset the Sox Bartolo Colon.
  • The Sox played game #81 on Wednesday. How can the season be half over already? It seems like we were just getting ready for those 6 AM starts in Japan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

While on a recent business trip to Toronto, I had the opportunity to catch the Toronto Blue Jays play the Seattle Mariners at the Rogers Centre. It had been 17 years since my last visit there, back when it was called SkyDome. I visited while on a road trip with some friends, including Bismo. In those pre-Camden Yards days, SkyDome was pretty much-state-of-the-art, with it's retractable roof and hotel rooms with a view of the field. I was interested to see how the intervening years had affected my impressions of the place and how it had held up.

I went over with a few co-workers from Boston who were also on Toronto for the meeting. Numerous people told us that the best way to get from our hotel to the stadium was on the subway, so that's what we did. We got some tokens (no smartcards here yet) and found our train. One odd moment - the driver jumped out of the train and yanked on something attached to the front. It looked for all the world like someone revving up the propeller on an old airplane. Despite this, we made it over to the station nearest the ballpark unscathed.

Between the subway station and the ballpark were a number of, um, "independent ticket brokers". One of them stopped us and one of my companions decided to negotiate. Minutes later, he came back with four box seats, four rows off the field, just to the outfield side of the first base dugout. He ended up talking the guy down to $40 each, $10 less than face value. Try doing that around Fenway Park!

We entered the Rogers Centre and my overwhelming impression was that the place looked worn. It has many of the negatives of '70s and '80's ballpark architecture: artificial turf, multi-purpose stadium, lots of concrete and overall just a bit bland.

The other thing that struck me was how empty it was. With 400+ consecutive sellouts, we have become accustomed to big crowds at Fenway. The Blue Jays claimed attendance of 20,073 at the game, which I thought was generous. Here's a shot (with my cell phone camera) of the crowd just after the start of the game (this is the view from our seat, by the way).

I had a hot dog (pretty good) and a Molson Canadian (gotta stick with the local stuff), along with a bag of peanuts later on. Prices were pretty standard for a major league ballpark, maybe a bit higher with the GST tacked onto the price of everything. The oddest food item I saw was the Pickle on a Stick ($1.77).

One thing I didn't understand was that they had Bud listed as a "domestic" beer. Hello? Wasn't I in Canada?

The game itself was pretty entertaining. Jarrod Washburn pitched for the Mariners, facing Jesse Litsch. They both pitched six innings, with Washburn giving up a run and Litsch giving up two on a home run by Jose Vidro. The Jays tied the game in the 7th, setting up an exciting 10th inning. The Mariners scored a run to take the lead on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze by Miguel Cairo. The Blue Jays managed to load the bases with none out in the bottom of the inning off Mariners closer J.J. Putz, but Lyle Overbay hit into a first to home double play and David Eckstein flew out to Ichiro for the final out and a 3-2 Mariners win.

We walked back to the subway and made it back to the hotel (no need to wind up the train this time). Rogers Centre certainly doesn't make my top ballparks list, but it was a fun evening with good company.

Monday, June 23, 2008

NYC trip, final part:

It's been four weeks since we got back from New York, so I wanted to wrap up this report. Since it's been so long, I'll just hit the highlights that I haven't covered already.

Ellis Island: After leaving the Statue of Liberty, we took the ferry over to Ellis Island. My one regret on this trip is that we didn't get to spend more time here. As a family that has been deeply affected by immigration, it was really moving to see what people a century ago went through to get to the promised land of America. My favorites were the movie which detailed the experience, including period video and photos and interviews with people who actually passed through Ellis Island; along with the section which detailed the process people went though to get through immigration, from getting off the ship to the ferry that took them to Manhattan and eventually wherever they planned to settle. The kids were fascinated with the displays of items that people took to the U.S. from their homelands. Clothes, musical instruments, toys, tools and a multitude of other items were on display.

I think if I were to go back there in the next few years I would skip the Statue of Liberty entirely and go directly to Ellis Island so that I could spend more time going through this museum.

American Museum of Natural History: Amazingly, I had never visited this museum. The number one impression I got was that it is huge. We spent over five hours there and we really only got to skim over a lot of things.

In a bit of good timing, an exhibit on horses had opened just a week before our visit. Since horses are pretty much R.'s favorite thing in the universe, she was very excited about this. It was a pretty interesting exhibit, covering just about everything you would want to know about horses: evolution, biology, domestication, use in warfare, etc. We spent about an hour on this alone, and R. probably would have happily spent at least twice as much time.

The highlight for me was the Hayden Planetarium. It's an amazing, state of the art place. The show we saw, Cosmic Collisions was breathtaking. I would love to get back there again.

We spent fair amounts of time with the dinosaurs, the hall of minerals, the Hall of Ocean Life (with a life-size whale model suspended from the ceiling) and in a few other spots, but by around 3:00 we were pretty beat. We could have easily spent all day in this place and still not seen everything.

Brooklyn: The former home of the Dodgers is also home to A.'s cousins, so we took the subway over to visit them on Monday morning before going home. They took us over to Prospect Park, a beautiful place in the middle of the borough. The kids were fascinated by a guy who was fishing (catch & release) in a nearby pond. I have never been able to figure out their fascination with fishing; I find it about as interesting as watching paint dry. From there we wandered over to the Prospect Park Zoo, a cool little place with a few nice animal exhibits. It's no Roger Williams, but it was certainly interesting enough to keep the kids entertained for an hour or so before we went back to the cousins house for lunch. We did see a fight between two gibbons, who actually seemed pretty ticked off at each other.

After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. We grabbed our luggage, took a cab back to Grand Central and caught the train back to New Haven. The whole trip went really well and we're looking forward to going back and taking in some more of the sights sometime.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A co-worker and I went down to Tremont St. across from the Boston Common to catch the Celtics rolling rally. The crowds were huge and were heavily populated by high school and college age kids. With school out of session in most places, it seemed like every 14-21 year old in a 100 mile radius was at the parade. The ones I saw were well behaved, though, and were enjoying a beautiful late spring day in the city.

We timed it well; we only hung around 10 minutes or so before the trucks started showing up. The first truck blew a hail of confetti at us (I found some in my pocket when we got back to the office) and Lucky was standing up top waving to the crowd and holding his camcorder.

It seemed much shorter than the Red Sox and Patriots parades I have been to. It may just be that a basketball team has fewer players. In any event, it was great to be there and salute Boston's latest champions.

Anyways, here are the pictures, with comments as appropriate.

The green clad masses await the Celtics arrival

You know it's a big event when the Goodyear blimp shows up. No lame local Hood blimp for the champs!

Celtics mascot Lucky films the crowd (and vice versa)

KG cradles the Trophy while Sam Cassell smokes a commemorative Red Auerbach cigar. Cigars were a standard accessory for many in the crowd.

See? More cigars.

Ray Allen soaks up the love. Beats a rainy day in Seattle, doesn't it Ray?

Danny Ainge. Now Much Smarter!

Big Baby really needs to come out of his shell, doesn't he?

This woman was swinging the stuffed dog (wearing a Celtics T-shirt) out of a window almost directly above us. I'm totally at a loss to explain exactly what it was about.

That's it! I'll hope to do another post like this in October, OK?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I'm way behind on blogging stuff (must be all those late night NBA games), but I'm going to get caught up in the next few days. Here's what's coming up:

  • Pictures from tomorrow's Celtics rolling rally (I love a parade!)
  • Final part of the NYC trip report
  • So this is what an empty ballpark looks like: my visit to Rogers Centre
  • Our Father's Day excursion to see the Worcester Tornadoes
We'll also try to figure out why J.D. Drew (4 for 4, HR and 4 RBI in today's Sox win in Philly) has suddenly started playing like a guy who's making $14 million a year. Was his kid's illness a bigger distraction than we all realized last year? Knowing how distracted I can get when one of my kids isn't feeling well, I can't imagine trying to hit a 90+ MPH fastball in that state. The guy we have seen the last few weeks is almost certainly the guy Theo had in mind when he signed him to that big contract.

More to come...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Order is restored to the universe.

The Celtics have returned to the spot they occupied for much of the time between 1957 to 1986, crushing the Los Angeles Lakers 131-92. The game was never even close after the first quarter as the Celtics led by 23 at the half. The Lakers pretty much gave up halfway through the third quarter, as Ray Allen took a completely uncontested three. None of the Lakers even bothered to try to stick a hand in his face.

The Celtics played a total game - offense, defense, hitting the boards, hustle. The Lakers were totally outmanned. The Big Three lived up to the example of their predecessors; Allen with 26 points, including 7 of 9 threes; MVP Paul Pierce with 17 points and 10 assists and KG added 26 points and 14 boards.

I feel especially happy for Pierce. This his 10th year with the Celtics and there were a lot of bad years mixed in there. He stayed with the team and really joined the pantheon of Celtics legends tonight.

Well, it's late, although I think it will take a while to fall asleep. The duck boats will be rolling later this week!

A few quick thoughts before tonight's Celtics game gets going:

- How is it that professional athletes like Bartolo Colon (stiff back because he swung too hard) and Chien Ming Wang (injured foot while running the bases) go to the disabled list while thousands of beer bellied softball players make it through their games without incident?

- And let's not even get into the vintage ballists who play with small (or no) gloves.

- Could the Mets have fired Willie Randolph in a more gutless and disgraceful fashion? They did it at 3:15 AM Eastern time after a win in Ananheim. The Mets obviously needed shaking up, but this just shows that Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon are really the ones without a clue.

- The best quote I have seen so far about Bowie Kuhn's election to the Hall of Fame (and Marvin Miller's shameful omission), comes, not surprisingly, from Jim Bouton: "It's ridiculous. Marvin kicked Bowie's butt in every confrontation. It's like having a cartoon Hall of Fame which admitted Wile E. Coyote and kept out the Roadrunner."

- Is there a better trio in baseball than the Phillies Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

J. and I saw Jim Rice today. Jim Ed was the guest of honor at Framingham's Little League Day this afternoon down at the baseball complex. We got there too late for the autograph session, but we got to see Rice talk about playing baseball and work with some of the 2nd graders . Admittedly, most of the kids present probably know him more as a NESN analyst and wearer of awesome suits than as one of the greatest hitters of his time.

Rice was great with the kids. He pitched to both teams, joked with the coaches and parents and smiled a lot. There was none of the legendary Rice surliness. I got a few pictures of one of the greatest Red Sox of all time in action.

Jim Ed makes a point about hitting using a kid's inflatable bat.

Winding up to pitch (underhand) as the defense gets ready.

The defense reacts to a hit.

A team picture these kids should cherish forever.

Friday, June 13, 2008

NYC trip - part 2:

After a good night's sleep, we got up early on Saturday morning to take the subway downtown to catch the boat from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had bought the tickets a few months earlier online, but had some problems printing them out. So A. called them and asked what we should do. We were told to go to the ticket office at Battery Park with our confirmation and they would issue our tickets. Oh, and we should get there 90 minutes early, because the security line could get very long I on a holiday weekend.

We were scheduled for an 11:15 boat. We left the hotel, hopped on the subway and quickly found out that we would have to switch to a bus a few stops early because of track work. No problem. We got to Battery Park a bit after 9:30 and got our tickets.

At first glance, it seemed that it was a good call to get there early. The line was huge, circling a portion of the park and winding through a Disney-style queue.

Then we caught sight of another line with a sign that said "Advance ticket holders only". We went over there and spoke to the security guard. She asked to see our tickets, asked what time we were scheduled to get on the ferry, and told us to be there 15 minutes before departure.

We sat on a nearby bench to figure out what to do next, since we had nearly an hour before we had to get back. As we were sitting there the guard said, "Can I see your tickets again?" She took a look at them and said that they were "comp" tickets, so we could get in line any time. The printing difficulties worked to our advantage, and we were able to get over to Liberty Island a good hour earlier than we would have otherwise.

This was a good thing, since we would need every one of those minutes. We went through our first level of security before boarding the boat, everyone passing through a metal detector. After getting on board, we rode over to Liberty Island.

Once on the island, we made our way over to the Statue. They no longer let you go up the stairs inside the statue itself, but our advance tickets included touring the base. The base of the statue includes a museum about the statue and it's construction. We got on line, which afforded us this great look at the rarely seen back of the Statue of Liberty.

The line led to another security check; another metal detector and a chemical "sniffer" that blows air at you to make sure you aren't carrying any explosives. I had gone through one at Logan Airport a couple of years ago. They aren't fooling around on security in this place.

After proving we weren't going to do anything bad, we made our way into the base of the statue. The first thing you come upon is the original torch, which was replaced during the refurbishment of the statue in the 1980's.

We made our way through the museum, which is full of some amazing stuff. If you ever have a chance, make sure you grab the advance tickets online, since they don't always have same day tickets to get you into the base of the statue.

Once we made our way through the museum, the next step was to go up to the very bottom of the statue. There were two options - an elevator, then a walk up 24 steps, or a walk up over 150 steps. J. wanted to walk, so I went with him, while the girls took the elevator. We made it up (I was only huffing an puffing a bit) and we went into a small room where you could look up and see the internal structure of the statue.

You could also go outside onto a walkway, which gave fantastic views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.

Finally, we made our way down and took a few more pictures of the statue from up close and then visited the gift shop. It was around 12:30, so we decided to grab some lunch from the standard overpriced concession stand (although the food was a step above what you might expect at a place like this). We still wanted to get to Ellis Island, and it was getting late in the afternoon.

To be continued...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Absolutely amazing.

The Celtics just took game 4 from the LA Lakers 97-91, but that's only a small part of the story. The real story is The Comeback. The Celtics were down by as much as 24, down by 20 in the third quarter and beat the Lakers on their home floor.

Everyone contributed to this. Pierce had 20. Ray Allen had a couple of brilliant baskets down the stretch. KG had 16 and 11 boards. James Posey was huge off the bench with 18 points and Eddie House played well also.

Most importantly, everyone played defense in the second half. The Lakers only scored 33 points after scoring 58 in the first half.

Does anyone even remember all the trouble the Celtics had winning on the road against Atlanta and the Cavs?

I never say anything is impossible after the 2004 ALCS, but being up 3-1 with two games left at the Gahden makes me feel pretty good about the Celtics chances.

Banner number 17 would be a pretty nice Father's Day present, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I know I haven't been posting much lately, but I have been out of town for most of the last week. We were in the Berkshires from Friday to Sunday for the Jewish Multiracial Network's annual retreat. Then I had to catch a flight to Toronto early Monday morning for a business conference. I did get to have a bit of fun while I was up in the Great White North, including catching Monday night's game between the Blue Jays and Mariners at the Rogers Centre. I'll have a full report on the game and the stadium (it was my first visit since 1991) over the weekend. It's getting late and I want to keep this short, so here are two quick observations on Toronto.

(1) It was rush hour when I was going from the airport to my hotel on Monday, and the driver decided to avoid the traffic on the highways and drove me through the city (I was on a flat rate, so he wasn't trying to run up the fare on me). It was great to take the scenic route, but the thing that really struck me was the sheer number of people riding bicycles to work, school or wherever. Of course, the city of Toronto makes it pretty easy to bike commute. There are bike paths along the lake and bike lanes on many of the major streets I rode on. There are also numerous places to lock up your bike. If Boston made half the effort Toronto does to make the city bike friendly, I bet the number of people commuting by bike would jump substantially.

(2) Tuesday night I went with a group of Boston area folks attending the conference to watch the Celtics game at a pub across the street from our hotel called the Spotted Dick. Get your mind out of the gutter. It's a kind of pudding. Despite the somewhat disappointing outcome (although I wasn't expecting them to win that game), it was a fun little pub with an excellent beer selection (I partook of a Smithwick's myself). Game 4 tomorrow!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Test Message

I'm testing sending a blog post from email. Since the iPhone/iPod Touch version of Safari doesn't seem to play nicely with the Blogger Web site, I wanted to see how this worked.

Instantly invite friends from Facebook and other social networks to join you on Windows Liveā„¢ Messenger. Invite friends now!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

We took a family trip to New York City over Memorial Day Weekend. The kids had never been to NYC, so we decided to embrace our inner tourists and check out some of the city's great attractions. We also paid a visit to Brooklyn to see A.'s cousins.

I took Friday off and we took the kids out of school for the day. After examining various options, we decided to get to drive to New Haven and take the Metro-North commuter rail to Grand Central Station. Back in my younger days this was my normal route into the city. I wouldn't have to drive in New York (which I avoid like the plague) and it's less expensive than Amtrak. Everything went off without a hitch. We got a noon train and got to Grand Central a bit before 2. From there we jockeyed for a cab and went over to our hotel.

Let me say a few things about the place we stayed. I got a reservation at a very reasonable rate (for New York) at the Hampton inn at 8th Ave. and 51st St. The staff was very friendly and helpful, the free breakfast buffet was very good and they added nice touches like a big bowl of apples in the lobby during the afternoon. The room was clean and big enough for the four of us. The hotel was very convenient to the subway, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. I would certainly stay there again.

Once we got to the hotel we decided to relax for a bit before venturing out. Our first stop was the Top of the Rock. This is the observation deck at the top of the 70 story GE Building in Rockefeller Center. We had first considered going to the Empire State Building, but when A. checked it out they suggested needing up to two hours to get through security. As we later found out from A.'s cousin, the Empire State Building is considered a terrorist target, so the security is very tight (we would get a taste of this when we visited the Statue of Liberty).

We got through security at the Top of the Rock pretty quickly and soon found ourselves on the way up to the observation deck. One cool touch: the elevators have a glass roof and various images are projected on it while you watch yourself go up the elevator shaft.

One drawback to going to the Empire State Building is that you can't actually see the building while you are standing on it. That's not a problem at the Top of the Rock, so you are able to get pictures like this:

If you go all the way to the top, the 70th floor observation deck gives you a 360 degree view of the city. I took a few more pictures, including this one of Central Park.

After wandering around there for a bit, we were starting to get hungry and, continuing on with the tourist theme of the weekend we went to the Stage Deli. The Stage is in the theater district (in case you couldn't figure that out from the name) and has been a fixture for decades. I went for the Mel Brooks triple decker. Words fail me when attempting to describe how big this sandwich is, so I thought a photograph might give you the best idea.

Yeah. If there had been a fridge in our room I could have gotten another meal out of it. That's J.'s chicken salad sandwich in the background from the kids menu.

Gorged on cold cuts and tired from a long day of traveling and sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel. We had to head downtown Saturday morning to Battery Park to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I'll cover those events in part 2.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Here's the final proof that the Bruins are utterly irrelevant in Boston. I just saw a guy at Fenway wearing a Bruins jersey that said "Ortiz 34" on the back.

Speaking of Big Papi, this whole wrist thing has me a bit nervous. Hopefully the doctors are right and this is a couple of weeks in a cast and a couple of weeks of rehab and he's back around the All-Star break. If Ortiz needs surgery it ends his season and the chances of another parade this October drop substantially.

I know most folks who read this blog don't follow the Cincinnati Reds (with one notable exception - you know who you are). Have you been following the white hot start of 21-year-old phenom Jay Bruce? Seven games into his career he's hitting .577 with three homers (including a walkoff game winner), and seven RBI. Everyone said this kid was a can't miss prospect and he looks pretty good so far. I'm looking forward to getting a closer look when the Sox take on the Reds at Great American Ballpark in interleague play this month.

Final note - Joba Chamberlain lasted a grand total of 2.2 innings in his first start with the Yankees. Good call, Hank Steinbrenner. You keep making those personnel moves.

I still owe you all a New York trip report - it's coming!

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